'Bored to Death': Low Stakes and Missed Opportunities

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George Christopher: "I guess we're like children. The thing we can't have is the thing we want."

This week's Bored to Death opens with another amusingly low-stakes case, when Ray's ex-girlfriend Leah (Heather Burns) asks Jonathan to help find her dognapped pooch. Jonathan and Leah discuss the ins and outs of the case over too much of a bottle of white wine. Both Jonathan and Leah are single, lonely, and buzzed; it's only a matter of time before he leans in to kiss her, and she leans in to kiss him back.

The lean, however, is as far as they go. Leah rushes out of Jonathan's apartment, leaving him to contemplate whether an attempt to kiss Ray's ex-girlfriend constitutes a betrayal—and whether he needs to tell Ray about it.

Meanwhile, George prepares for his prostate surgery by indulging in his typically voracious sexual appetite. He tells his surgeon and lover, Dr. Kenwood (Jessica Hecht), that he's "so glad that possibly the last erection of his life" is with her. The line is apparently effective enough that he uses it again on his ex-wife Priscilla during her visit to the hospital (Laila Robins). When Dr. Kenwood overhears him, she storms off, leaving George (understandably) concerned about the fact that his newly jilted lover is about to operate on his penis.

As is custom on Bored to Death, however, everything works out fine by the episode's end. Jonathan discovers that George's file has been confused with another patient's—George never even had prostate cancer—and stops the surgery just in time. Jonathan confesses his almost-indiscretion with Leah to Ray, whose sense of betrayal dissipates, unconvincingly, almost immediately.

Bored to Death is often very low-stakes; Jonathan's backlog of cases includes such minor problems as a lost screenplay and a stolen skateboard. On a normal detective show, this would be a weakness, but it works on Bored to Death because the show isn't actually about cases; it's about characters. Jonathan and Ray are best friends, with an intense level of candor that's both odd and endearing. Jonathan and Leah's near-kiss was a unique opportunity for the show to generate real, much-needed conflict between its central characters. Unfortunately, that opportunity was missed.

Before Jonathan discovers Dr. Kenwood's mistake, as George prepares for a surgery he's not completely sure he'll survive, Jonathan tells him he loves him. When the nurse enters to take George away, she asks if Jonathan is George's son. George looks Jonathan in the eye and replies, "Yes." The scene is as surprising, sweet, and moving as the show has ever been. Bored to Death is at its best, by far, when it's about the love between its three leading men. If the show ever reaches a point when it's confident enough to genuinely challenge that love, it'll be all the more meaningful.

Most emasculating moment of the week: Unsure of how to react to the news that his best friend almost kissed the ex-girlfriend he's still in love with, Ray sprints away from Jonathan. Unfortunately, he gets only less than a block away before he needs to catch his breath, and Jonathan easily catches up to him.

Literary reference of the week: Jonathan finishes his short story for a New Yorker contest—a clunky-sounding hard-boiled detective pastiche that opens with the lines, "In Harry's hand, the gun looked like a toy. The gun was big, but his hand was bigger."

Next week on Bored to Death: Jonathan's coquettish student enlists his help to indulge her unusual fetish; Vikram, the out-of-work driver from last week's episode, assists Jonathan on his latest case.

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Scott Meslow is entertainment editor at TheWeek.com.

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